St. Louis Voters Reject Slate Seeking Quick Halt to Busing

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St. Louis voters last week rejected a slate of candidates for the city school board that had pledged to seek an immediate end to court-ordered student busing there.

Heavy voter turnout in the city's predominantly black north side was credited with helping a rival slate, which backed full compliance with a federal district judge's desegregation orders, take all four open seats on the 12-member board.

Observers of the local political scene said the 4 Candidates 4 Kids ticket galvanized support for its cause by asserting that the opposing slate, Friends and Advocates of Neighborhood Schools of St. Louis, aimed to resegregate the district.

For example, it claimed that the Friends slate had close ties to the Metro South Citizens Council, a civic organization that the 4 Candidates group says promotes racial separation.

William J. Macke, one of the losing candidates in the April 2 election and a member of the council, said the group believes "that each race has its own pride."

If it had won the election, the Friends slate would have formed a majority on the school board through an alliance with five incumbents.

"I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Pauline V. Smith, one of the winning candidates. "We beat them clearly and significantly."

Voters also approved by wide margins two ballot proposals that were backed by the 4 Candidates ticket and opposed by the Friends slate: a $131-million bond issue for school repairs, and a waiver of a property-tax rollback that will provide schools with an extra $11 million.

According to local political observers, such tax proposals typically are rejected or are approved by the slimmest of margins.

The 4 Candidates slate spent more than $280,000, the most ever in a St. Louis school-board race, and mustered support from a wide array of civic, religious, political, and business leaders.

Heavy media coverage of the race apparently attracted some 20,000 more voters than expected to the polls, and most of them voted for the 4 Candidates slate, political analysts said.

"Normally, a school-board race gets a big yawn" said Kenneth F Warren, a professor of political science and public policy at St. Louis University. "Here you have a race that really was given just unbelievable attention."

Analysts said a ward-by-ward breakdown of voting results indicated that the election pitted the city's north side, which is more than 90 percent black, against the south side, which is more than 90 percent white and has large numbers of retirees and families that send their children to private schools.

Some analysts had predicted that the Friends slate would benefit from low turnout among blacks, who constitute 42 percent of the city's registered voters.

Voter turnout in the 11 north-side wards, however, was nearly double that of the previous school-board election, and more than 95 percent of the voters in those wards cast their ballots for the 4 Candidates ticket.

"We knew from the start that black voters would win or lose this election for us," said Karen J. Isbell, the winning ticket's co-manager.

The ticket also won more than 20 percent of the vote in the largely white south-side wards, about twice the percentage that had been predicted by some observers.

Both slates of candidates campaigned against the mandatory busing of some 4,300 students pursuant to a 1980 federal-court order. They differed, however, on the means of getting out from under the order.

The Friends slate asserted that the district had done all it could to overcome racial segregation. It pledged to petition U.S. District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh immediately to lift his desegregation orders.

"We felt that the money spent on busing does nothing to educate the children, and having the kids riding the bus from early in the morning to late at night does nothing to educate them at all," said Mr. Macke of the Friends slate. "It steals from their playing, and it steals from the time that could be spent on homework tasks."

The 4 Candidates slate argued that the best way for the district to win relief from court orders is to comply with them fully. That would mean lowering student-teacher ratios, repairing more than 100 school buildings, and expanding the district's magnet-school program.

The slate alleged that the members of the board allied with the Friends ticket have opposed compliance with the court's orders and have mired the district in controversy.

"We have yet to comply with the court order one day in our city," said Robbyn G. Stewart, one of the winning candidates.

The 4 Candidates slate also criticized Mr. Macke of the Friends ticket and four of the ticket's allies on the board for their membership in the Metro South Citizens Council, which the 4 Candidates group says supports "states rights" and "racial integrity."

The 4 Candidates slate also called for the resignation of the treasurer of the Friends slate, Jerome A. Tessmer, because he contributed $100 to the campaign of David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who is running for governor of Louisiana.

Mr. Tessmer last week defended his contribution to Mr. Duke, saying, "I give to over 50 Republicans every election year."

"What about the NAACP?" he continued. "That's pretty rotten, too. They're anti-white. Some of the people I give to might belong to the NAACP, too."

Mr. Macke said that, contrary to the image portrayed by its opponents, the Friends slate addressed several educational issues other than busing during the campaign.

"The other side did more to stir up racial hate than we did," he said.

Vol. 10, Issue 29, Page 05

Published in Print: April 10, 1991, as St. Louis Voters Reject Slate Seeking Quick Halt to Busing
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